French fishermen vote to keep up strikes

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French fishermen dismiss aid package, continue to extend strikes and oil blockades in a dozen key ports by another two days.

27 May 2008

BOULOGNE SUR MER - French fishermen voted on Monday to extend strikes and oil blockades in a dozen key ports by another two days, dismissing a package of aid to help cope with soaring fuel costs.

After tense talks in the key fishing port of Boulogne-sur-Mer, a majority of the 50 fishermen present voted to uphold their strikes and plan to call for a Europe-wide protest movement in the coming days, participants said.

Meanwhile in Ancona, Italy, fishermen's groups from four European countries, including France, called for a strike from Wednesday in protest at the price they have to pay for diesel fuel.

The four main Mediterranean fishing federations - Italy, Spain, Greece and Malta - were also to meet later Monday in Paris to discuss possible joint action.

The vote here concerned fishing crews from Boulogne, Calais, Dunkirk, Dieppe, Le Treport, and Cherbourg on the English Channel, and the Mediterranean ports of Marseille, Martigues, Sete, Agde and Port La Nouvelle.

Only one delegation, from Etaples near Calais, voted to return to work.

Fleets along the Atlantic coast agreed at the weekend to head back to sea, after the government promised aid to compensate for diesel costs. Fishermen in La Turballe in Brittany were the latest to return to work Monday.

But a determined fringe has kept up their action across the country, angry at fuel prices and also at European Union fishing quotas.

"Our demands are still the same, a standardised fuel price across Europe and a responsible management of quotas," said Thierry Lepretre, head of the fishing committee in Boulogne, where groups of fishermen strung cables across the port entrance to stop colleagues heading out to sea.

Earlier Monday, Brittany fishermen voted to remain on strike in Lorient, France's second fishing port, as well as Saint-Brieuc, while in Normandy they voted to keep up the strike in Granville and Ouistreham.

Further meetings were planned in the Channel ports of Saint-Malo and Granville, where fishermen were either on strike or blocking access.

Fishermen also upheld their blockades of oil depots in Port-la-Nouvelle on the Mediterrean and La Rochelle on the Atlantic, as well as a Total oil refinery in Normandy.

Several dozen masked fishermen dumped more than seven tonnes of fish into a processed food factory in Brittany, gendarmes said, while others emptied fish warehouses or set up local road blocks.

The fishermen escalated their protests last week, disrupting cross-Channel traffic, blocking fuel depots and ransacking fishstands at supermarkets as industry leaders negotiated with President Nicolas Sarkozy's government.

Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Michel Barnier promised emergency aid to help cushion the price of fuel, which has shot up from EUR 0.40 euro to EUR 0.75 in six months.

Fishermen in northeastern Spain launched a similar protest on Monday to demands for government aid, saying they too are hard hit by high fuel prices, with Belgium and Portugal planning to follow later this week.

In Ancona a "Mediterranean vigilance committee" grouping fishermen from France, Italy, Portugal and Spain called for an indefinite strike from Wednesday, but it was not clear how representative they were.

An Italian association, the Federation of Fishing Cooperatives, also called for talks with Agriculture Minister Luca Zaia, adding that its leadership would meet Wednesday to discuss strike action.

[AFP / Expatica]

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